Parabolic Growth

Some 150 years after the French mathematician Augustin Mouchot began generating steam from concentrating solar energy, the father of CSP technology would no doubt be delighted to see his prodigy growing up fast. Mouchot’s vision is at last becoming a reality, given the evidence of the past year or so.

Use of solar energy steam generators connected to fairly standard conventional power islands – steam turbine and generator – is a technology that is now well understood and while the various designs of solar collector may present some novelties, CSP installations share many common traits with their fossil-fired cousins. It is perhaps for this reason that CSP has attracted the interest not only of utility companies keen to expand on their renewable portfolios, but also original equipment manufacturers which have traditionally supplied the utility market.

Certainly, one of the clearest signs that the CSP sector is maturing came from the autumn 2009 acquisition of CSP technology company Solel by Germany engineering colossus Siemens.

Siemens acquired the remaining 63% stake in Israel-based Solel Solar Systems which it didn’t own from London-based investment firm Ecofin Ltd. for US$418 million.

The company produces solar parabolic troughs and has been involved in the manufacture and installation of solar fields since its 1992 launch by former Luz International staff, after Luz went bankrupt. Explaining its decision, Siemens said that it is projecting annual double-digit growth rates for CSP plants by 2020 and that it expects the market to reach a volume of more than €20 billion ($27 billion) by then. It is backing its convictions with acquisitions. The Solel deal followed a March 2009 acquisition of a 28% stake in Archimede Solar Energy, an Italian company which manufactures solar receiver tubes.

With a stake in two key parabolic trough-type CSP technologies and considerable expertise in the engineering of the conventional power island, Siemens appears well placed to exploit a growth market. And, in order to support its ambitions, the company has also announced at least one capacity addition in the months following the acquisitions. In January 2010 Archimede, the joint venture between Angelantoni Industrie Spa and Siemens, began construction at a new receiver production facility in the Italian town of Massa Martana.

Starting in early 2011, the plant has a planned annual production capacity of approximately 75,000 solar receiver tubes, which will be ultimately be increased to 140,000 per year. These solar receivers will use molten salt for heat transfer medium instead of oil, which the company says can significantly increase efficiency.

A first commercial plant is currently under construction in Sicily, the Priolo Gargallo project, which will use 1500 solar receivers with molten salt as the heat transfer medium and is expected to go operational early in the summer of 2010.

Peter Löscher, Siemens’ president and CEO, emphasised that the move followed the company’s promise to expand its solar thermal activities earlier in 2009, noting: ‘After the rapid and highly successful expansion of our wind power business, we now want to continue this success story in the solar sector.’ Löscher added, ‘We now have complete control of all solar thermal components.’ (Click here for slightly larger image.)

No doubt the company’s interest in Solel was in no small part down to a landmark 2007 agreement with Californian utility group Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), which signed a power purchase agreement for the 553 MW Mojave Solar Park. Planned for construction in California’s Mojave Desert, when operational in 2011 the installation will cover up to 6000 acres (2428 ha) use 1.2 million mirrors and 317 miles (507 km) of vacuum tubing. Over the past 20 years, Solel technology has installed nine operating solar power plants generating 354 MW in the Mojave Desert. (Click here for slightly larger image.)

Of course, for PG&E and other utility groups, Solel and Siemens are hardly the only game in town. During 2008 and 2009 PG&E, for example, signed power purchase agreements (PPAs) for more than 1900 MW of CSP capacity with groups including subsidiaries of FPL’s NextEra Energy Resources, Abengoa Solar, NRG Energy and BrightSource Energy, which also has links to Israel’s Luz.

NextEra’s proposed Genesis Solar Energy Project consists of two 125 MW units scheduled to come on line in two phases, the first in 2013 and the second in 2014. It is expected to deliver about 560 GWh annually. Meanwhile, Abengoa Solar’s proposed 250 MW Mojave Solar project is to be located at Harper Lake in San Bernardino County and is expected to deliver more than 600 GWh per year. The project is scheduled to become fully operational by late 2013.

And, under the terms of a series of contracts with BrightSource Energy Inc, PG&E has signed PPAs for seven CSP projects and a total of 1310 MW of capacity since April 2008. Collectively the projects are expected to produce some 3.7 TWh annually. The first of these solar power plants, 100 MW in Ivanpah, California, is scheduled to be operating in 2012 and is expected to produce 246 GWh annually, PG&E says.

In a separate agreement with NRG Energy subsidiary Alpine SunTower LLC, PG&E will also be purchasing output from a 92 MW solar tower installation using technology from eSolar and scheduled for completion in 2012. The project will be located near Lancaster, California, and will produce approximately 192 GWh annually.

The project is part of eSolar and NRG’s previously announced plans to develop up to 500 MW of CSP capacity in California and across the Southwestern United States.

eSolar’s CSP projects feature a proprietary combination of optics and software in a pre-fabricated modular form, each unit with a capacity of 46 MW.

Commenting on the strategy Fong Wan, vice president of energy procurement at PG&E, observed: ‘Solar thermal energy is an especially attractive renewable power source because it is available when needed most in California – during the peak mid-day summer period.’

California law requires each investor-owned utility to increase the share of eligible renewable generating resources in its electric power portfolio to 20% by 2010 and while PG&E has made contractual commitments to have over 20% of its future deliveries from renewables it is not alone.

In 2009, for example, Southern California Edison and BrightSource Energy signed a deal for 1300 MW of CSP installations across seven projects which is expected to deliver some 3.7 TWh per year.

BrightSource Energy will use its proprietary Luz Power Tower 550 (LPT 550) system which uses air-cooling condensers, minimising water consumption, an important factor in the typically arid environments suited to CSP applications.

A different CSP technology comes from Stirling Energy Systems (SES) and Tessera Solar, which unveiled their new dish-engine system at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2009 and plans commercial-scale deployments beginning in 2010. Each dish can generate up to 25 kW and the proprietary technology will be deployed in two of the world’s largest solar generating projects in Southern California with San Diego Gas & Electric in the Imperial Valley and Southern California Edison in the Mojave Desert, in addition to a previously announced project with CPS Energy in West Texas. Bob Lukefahr, Tessera Solar North America CEO commented: ‘Our projects will break ground next year [2010], with the goal of producing 1000 MW by the end of 2012.’

Beyond California, Florida’s FPL Group and associated companies reportedly remained the market leader at the end of 2009 in terms of installations. The group, which includes – NextEra Energy Resource and Florida Power & Light (FP&L) – is expected to maintain its overall leadership position by combining NextEra’s 147 MW net ownership in California and FP&L’s Martin 75 MW integrated solar combined cycle (ISCC) facility in Florida, which is due to come online in 2010 and which will be the world’s first hybrid solar energy plant combining a solar-thermal field with a combined-cycle natural gas power plant. Construction commenced in December 2008 and the plant, the largest solar thermal installation outside of California, has an annual estimated generation of about 155 GWh.

Over in Europe – where evidence of utility engagement is less obvious via PPAs and directed more into joint project development – Spain is the central focus of CSP activity with a number of installations commissioned or under development. For example, in June 2009, Abengoa Solar’s first high-temperature power tower, Eureka, was unveiled as a platform to test a new type of high temperature receiver. This experimental plant occupies a 16,000 square foot (1486 m2) portion of the Solúcar Platform, a 300 MW solar thermal and photovoltaic solar installation complex scheduled for completion in 2013. Eureka uses 35 heliostats and a 164 foot (15 m) tower which houses the experimental superheating receiver. Capacity of the plant is approximately 2 MW and the facility includes a thermal energy storage system.

With this new development Abengoa Solar now has three solar power towers in operation, two in commercial use, and began operation of the world’s largest solar power tower plant, the 20 MW PS20 installation in April of 2009 at the Solúcar Platform, near Seville in Sanlúcar la Mayor. PS20 consists of a solar field made up of 1255 mirrored heliostats with a surface area of 1291 square feet (119 m2) and a receiver at the top of a 531 foot (131 m) high tower.

In addition to 31 MW already operational, in December 2009 Abengoa entered 13 plants in the CSP pre-allocation registry in Spain with a combined capacity of 650 MW. The new plants, each with a capacity of 50 MW, are grouped into five solar platforms: Solúcar, where construction is being completed on three plants included in the registry; Écija, where two plants are under construction; Ciudad Real, where construction will begin on two plants in 2010; Carpio Complex (Córdoba), where construction of two plants will commence in 2010; and, Extremadura Complex in Logrosán (Cáceres), where four plants will be built in different stages.

CSP market leader Acciona Energia, also of Spain, has received pre-allocation for five CSP projects, totaling 250 MW, with a capacity of 50 MW each: Alvarado (also called ‘La Risca’); Palma del Río I and Palma del Río II (in Andalusia), and Orellana and Majadas (in Extremadura). The 250 MW have been included in Phase 1 of the four established by the Spanish Cabinet in November 2009, which means that the facilities can enter service as soon as their construction is completed. They represent 28% of the CSP capacity preallocation in this first phase and 11% of the total preallocated capacity.

The Solúcar Platform, which features a research and development area that is building several demonstration plants for new technologies, contains installations employing practically every type of solar technology available, whether in commercial use or under demonstration. However, Abengoa is also working on a similar development in Aurora, Colorado known as the Solar Technology Acceleration Center (SolarTAC), which announced its start-up in October 2009. Abengoa Solar, one of the six developers of SolarTAC, will set up a parabolic trough collector experimental site linked to an assembly plant located within the facility for testing and validating the company’s new designs. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the City of Aurora, the Colorado Renewable Energy Laboratory, the US Midwest Research Institute (MRI), SunEdison and Xcel Energy have also signed up to join SolarTAC.

Elsewhere in Europe, alongside Abengoa, other players include Schott Solar AG, which significantly expanded its CSP production capacity to 400 MWe, compared with the previous year’s 200 MWe, in 2008/2009. Schott says It has 1 GWe of CSP capacity planned.

And, at January’s World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, Ferrostaal AG announced an order for the Andasol 3 parabolic trough CSP plant in southern Spain. Another CSP plant is also planned, the parabolic trough Ibersol in Extremadura, which like Andasol 3, is scheduled to have a capacity of 50 MW and to be completed in 2013. Andasol 3 is slated to begin supplying power in 2011. Both Andasol 1 and Andasol 2, each of which has an output of around 50 MW, have already been connected to the power grid and started test operation. And, like Andasol 1 and 2, Andasol 3 will have a thermal storage which will enable power to be generated reliably for up to eight hours at night or in cloudy weather. Ferrostaal is implementing Andasol 3 together with RWE Innogy, RheinEnergie, Solar Millennium and Stadtwerke München (Munich City Utilities).

Prof. Fritz Vahrenholt, chairman of RWE Innogy said: ‘Parabolic trough technology sets new benchmarks for solar electricity generation. It can be deployed on a large scale and generates electricity in a reliable and grid-friendly way even after sunset thanks to a huge molten salt thermal storage system. This allows the plant to generate electricity for almost twice the amount of hours as a solar power plant without the storage system. For us, this investment is therefore a further important step toward a sustainable and safe method of providing energy on the basis of renewable energies.’

Market Expectations

While still limited in terms of MW installed, CSP is clearly attracting considerable interest. According to EER’s January 2010 Power Advisory analysis – see figures 1 and 2 shown on page 70 and 71 – in 2009, CSP additions jumped 26% from the 2008 total of some 482 MW to 606 MW.

At the start of 2009, with around 480 MW of CSP installed globally and another 800 MW under construction in Spain, the CSP industry was gaining momentum – yet significant permitting and regulatory hurdles remain. Now, with close to 130 projects under development in Spain and over 50 projects in the US pipeline, the CSP sector is expected to demand as much as US$80 billion of investment over the next decade. And, though the market will be led by financially-sound first-movers with CSP plants under construction, a host of new entrants are now vying for CSP market share along the value chain.

In Europe Acciona Energía and Iberdrola Renovables added 50 MW each to their renewable portfolios in 2009. However, Iberdrola’s omission from Spain’s ‘pre-registration’ list indicates that it has abandoned a previously announced 600 MW Spanish pipeline, EER says. Acciona is expected, nonetheless, to add another 100 MW and 50 MW in 2010 and 2011, respectively

Elsewhere in Spain, independent power producers (IPPs) Abengoa Solar, Grupo Samca, and ACS Cobra are scheduled to add 100 MW each in 2010, collectively some 44% of total annual additions for 2010, placing them into the top five of EER’s CSP ownership rankings.

By the end of 2010, 59% of the 1292 MW of global installed capacity will be in Spain, compared to 30% at year-end 2008, overshadowing the US market’s projected total installed capacity of 493 MW by year-end 2010, EER forecasts.

In 2010, the US market is expected limited to FP&L’s 75 MW ISCC project, Chevron’s 29 MW enhanced oil recovery system by BrightSource in Coalinga, California, and two demonstration systems – Xcel Energy’s 4 MW ISCC and Tessera Solar’s 1.5 MW facility.

Parabolic trough technology leads, and is forecast to represent more than 93% of global installations, including 125 MW of ISCC applications in Algeria, Morocco, Italy, and the US by the end of 2010. However, in 2010 – with eSolar’s 5 MW direct steam-generating demonstration facility and 15 MW planned for 2010 by licensee ACME Energy in India – central receiver technology will receive a minimal boost in 2010.

David Appleyard is associate editor of Renewable Energy World.




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